Franz Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis, is a story about Gregor Samsa, a man who does everything to fulfill the needs of his family. Isolation and alienation is a huge theme of this story because he changes in his sleep into a giant beetle symbolizing those things. Kafka’s perspective on the meaning of life is drawn through Gregor Samsa.
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Existentialism is a philosophy related term with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility (Existentialism 3). Gregor is unable to fulfill his view of finding meaning in one’s life; he acted how his family wanted him too. Kafka’s belief that there is no meaning to life and that the individual has to create his own meaning in life is entirely missed by Gregor. Kafka uses the mindsets of Gregor and his family members to express the importance of an individual fulfilling his own needs.
The main character Gregor is meant to relate to Franz Kafka. For Kafka and his parents, he took jobs that he did not want to do at all. His relationship with his father remained strained throughout his life and his fathers impact can be seen in a lot of his writing (Triska 13). Gregor’s relationship with his father is similar to Kafka’s relationship with his father too. For most of Kafka’s life, he did not live to fulfill his own needs; Kafka was living under his father’s expectations. He was under so much pressure to become a successful businessman like his father, but he loved literature which went against what his father wanted him to do; hence why he had a strained relationship between him and his dad (Kafka Birthday: A Letter From Franz Kafka To His Father). Franz Kafka had two younger brothers, but they both died leaving Kafka as the only son (Kafka.org). Kafka being the only living son caused for him to have to take his father’s cruel behavior and presence. Kafka has lived the not being able to make choices that benefit his life, his dad made all the choices for him. He knows the feeling that an individual gets when he or she is not living to bringing meaning to their lives. When comparing Franz Kafka and his personal life to The Metamorphosis it is obvious in more ways than one that he was writing a twisted story of his life (Breckman).
Through Gregor, Kafka shows the process of depriving a person of positive human qualities. Gregor works at a job that consumes his thoughts and passions. He shows us how humans give themselves up to boring routines that don’t bring any meaning to the individual’s life. Gregor has a flashback to a time before his metamorphosis, when he worked with a special intensity (Metamorphosis 43) in order to provide for his family, all while ignoring his own needs. Kafka knows the affect that doing something that someone does not enjoy can have on every aspect of that person’s life. He was forced to work at jobs that he did not want to, his dissatisfaction with the direction his life was headed cause him to have suicidal thoughts (Franz Kafka- Biography). Kafka knows the dangers of not living to bring meaning into one’s life and uses Gregor to illustrate this to the audience. Without meaning in life there is no reason to live because life alone is meaningless.
A picture on Gregor’s wall causes him to remember the days before he had to drop everything he enjoyed in order to take care of his family. The picture is a picture of him as a lieutenant. smiling and worry free. demanding respect for his uniform (Metamorphosis 24). Through the use of imagery Franz Kafka illustrates a time where Gregor had a job that he actually enjoyed. Gregor was able to find happiness in the days where he was living for his own individual needs and not for the needs of his family. He was actually smiling something that Gregor never does now or when he was working as a traveling salesmen. It was a time where Gregor had some power and he was the one that made his own decisions about his life. Gregor remembering those days and wanting them back, shows us readers that he did once have a meaning in life and was fulfilled. At the time of the story, Gregor’s life is not very meaningful; he sacrifices his own needs to fulfill the needs of his family. Individuals that sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others may feel as if they being helpful but they will never feel satisfied and fulfilled in their own life.
In Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis, Gregor has no desire to go back to work. Gregor hopes that they are startled, then Gregor would have no more responsibility and could be calm (Metamorphosis 24). Unless an individual is doing something that they enjoy, there will be no reason or interest for them to continue. Gregor is not doing something that he enjoys; he works as a salesman in order to provide and support for his struggling family. Gregor wanted them to be startled and scared of his transformation because then no one would need to rely on him anymore and he could go and do what he desires; however, if they accepted his transformation then he really would not have anything to be excited about because he would end up having to go back to work. The responsibility of having to support his family is a burden for Gregor. There is a difference between Gregor’s needs and his family’s needs. Gregor wants to let go of the responsibilities that his family has placed on him. Individuals not living for self-fulfillment will always feel as if they are caged in with no freedom to make their own choices.
Most individuals will take advantage of an individual generosity. Mr. Samsa is also perfectly capable of getting a job. After Gregor’s transformation Mr. Samsa gets a job at the bank and wears a tight fitting blue uniform with gold buttons (Metamorphosis 50). The father’s uniform is meant to symbolize the loss of individuality and that he has become dehumanized. The father is now working in order to support the family. Mr. Samsa even managed to sleep in his uniform as if he was always ready for his responsibility. His need to work became his greatest concern. Gregor was once proud to be the main provider of the family. However, it is revealed that Gregor did not have to support the family by himself. The family took advantage of Gregor and allowed him to work at a job and for a boss that he hated. His family could have helped him pay off the debt so that he could get on with his life. Gregor’s father has found the balance between the expectations of him family and his own individual needs, something that Gregor could not find.
Kafka’s view is that the more unselfish one is the more poorly they are treated by society. Gregor’s family is more than happy to take advantage of Gregor, but once he is unable to provide for them they disregard his needs as an individual and expect him to take full responsibility to take care of his needs alone to bring meaning into their life. In The Metamorphosis, Gregor finally realizes that he is being treated wrong, he becomes filled with anger over the wretched care that he was getting (Metamorphosis 71). Gregor realizes that he can’t rely on anyone but himself. Everything that one does in his or her lifetime should be to achieve self-fulfillment. An individual fulfilling his or her own needs is essential for them to live a satisfied life, and meaningful life. No one else can bring meaning into a person’s life.
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